[box type=”shadow” ]Air-conditioners no doubt offer many benefits but can cause health concerns if not maintained properly.[/box]
The problems associated with air-conditioners (ACs) arise out of overuse. Studies have consistently shown that the people exposed to ACs are more susceptible to health ailments. Research shows that people who work in over air-conditioned offices may experience chronic headaches and fatigue.
Long hours spent in such environments causes dry skin. However, it is not just the cold air that could be detrimental. One study of hospital workers showed that synthetic fibres and mechanical irritants from an AC filter actually caused skin irritation.
According to the International Journal of Epidemiology, central air-conditioners create condensation on the cooling coils and in the drain pans that can grow microorganisms and mold. These are spread throughout the premises by the central AC ventilation system. People who suffer from asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory illnesses can get serious lung infections, shortness of breath, wheezing or other severe reactions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that indoor air pollutants might be greater than contaminated air outside. Central AC units, according to the EPA, can spread indoor pollutants such as bacteria, molds, mildew, viruses, pollen and animal dander. Outdoor air is necessary to reduce the amount of air pollutants inside. Centralised ACs do not bring fresh air into the home, and therefore they do not help reduce the concentrations of indoor pollutants as it rotates the present air constantly.
Mold is a microscopic fungus belonging to the fungal family of mushrooms and yeasts which are very adaptive and can reproduce at a rapid speed, leaving a trail of circular patches known as mold spore. You have more than likely seen the mold on decaying wood, window sills, fabrics that have been stored in damp places and even in your wardrobes. There are over 270 species of indoor and outdoor mold, all with associated health risks.
As with any diseases, the most susceptible are the very young, babies and children, pregnant women and the elderly, especially those with respiratory diseases and weak immune systems.
The high moisture level along with the dust makes it a great place for breeding. When filters are available for cleaning, you have probably been surprised at the dirt that has collected. Well now, picture the vents and ducts in the air con system that you are unable to look into. It would be full of pet hairs, dust and dirt all being blown through the ducts and vents into your room, possibly over your bed or on your food and definitely in the air for you to breath in. Eventually, this unseen problem can and will take its toll on your health and it is of no surprise that Legionnaires Disease, a type of pneumonia caused by the bacterium Legionella, which is found in the warm, moist environments of an air-conditioner.
Central air-conditioning systems are known to enhance the effects the illness that you may already be suffering from.
Sick Building Syndrome
The term Sick Building Syndrome was coined to describe the condition that affects a group of people who experience systems in the workplace that are relieved when they spend time away from it. Common symptoms of this include chronic fatigue, headaches, dry throat and sore eyes, and these complaints can be very severe. In a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology people working in office buildings with central air conditioning had more symptoms of illness than those who did not work in buildings with central air-conditioning. The sicknesses might be caused by poor air conditioning ventilation systems and improper maintenance.
Refrigerant Environmental issues
Prior to 1994, most automotive air-conditioning systems used Dichlorodifluoromethane (R-12) as a refrigerant. The manufacture of R-12 was banned in many countries in 1994 because of environmental concerns, in compliance with the Montreal Protocol. The R-12 was replaced with R-134a refrigerant, which has a lower ozone depletion potential. Old R-12 systems can be retrofitted to R-134a by a complete flush and filter/dryer replacement to remove the mineral oil, which is not compatible with R-134a. When the AC is serviced or replaced, the company servicing reclaims the refrigerant.
The gas in the AC unit, if released into the atmosphere, has a GWP of 1,700 times greater than CO2. Another way to think of this is that it would take driving your car for approximately two years to create the equivalent amount of GWP as a one-pound leak from the AC (a typical central AC system holds 10-20 pounds of refrigerant).
Urban Heat Island
Air-conditioning for many of us is just used for comfort but for most people in these extremely hot conditions it is said to make the environment even hotter due to its contribution to global warming. As the cool air is created inside, intense hot air is pumped outside via the condensers. This creates heat zones which multiply in a city. This is what science calls as an urban heat island. This is the name given to describe the characteristic warmth of both the atmosphere and surfaces in cities (urban areas) compared to their (non-urbanized) surroundings.
When you add up a city’s worth of air-conditioners, you can understand why it is that cities are hotter than the countryside in summer. This additional heat also creates a microclimate convection system whereby the hot air rises swiftly in pocketed areas, creating many new abnormal localized weather patterns.